Building codes key to establishing liability in balcony failures

Author: Rohan Haté Professional Corporation |

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Establishing liability for balcony failures can be a difficult task for injury victims, says Toronto insurance lawyer Rohan Haté.

CBC News recently reported that seven people were injured when a second-floor balcony broke away from the wall of an Ottawa apartment building, falling onto the first-floor balcony below.

Thankfully, nobody was on the lower balcony at the time of the accident and all of those on the upper platform survived the fall, although four had to be hospitalized for their injuries.

Total collapses like this one are rare, but Toronto is no stranger to balcony issues, thanks to spates of falling glass incidents that have hit the headlines at various points over recent years, often involving condos with glass panels in balcony guards.

“When someone is injured in these circumstances, the onus is on them to show that there was some negligence in the installation or maintenance of the balcony,” says Haté, who frequently represents people who have been injured through no fault of their own.

Experts critical to proving liability

The building owners and any contractors hired to work on the balcony could be found responsible for an injured person’s damages, but plaintiffs may have to dig deep to gather the evidence they need to prove their case.

“You will have to hire experts and engineers to determine what happened, whether or not there were defects in the construction, and if the building code was followed,” Haté explains. “It’s critical that all the right rules were followed, but it’s only through the discovery process — when you are provided with all the relevant contracts and specifications involved — that you can find out for sure.”

The appealing appearance and unobstructed views offered by glass have made it a popular choice for balcony guards, building facades and entryways in many new constructions over the last couple of decades. However, there are strict rules that developers, builders and contractors must follow when installing glass as part of their structures.

When poor material choices lead to injury

Applicable building codes proved crucial in one of Haté’s cases involving a glass injury when he acted for the family of a young girl whose face was permanently scarred by a shard from a shattered glass pane.

The toddler was being carried by her visiting uncle when he walked through what he thought was a set of double doors at the girl’s home. However, the configuration of the entryway had recently been changed, and the man ended up putting his foot through a new glass panel next to the door, sending shards flying.

Haté helped his clients show that installation of the new doorway and surrounding glass breached the local building code by failing to use tempered glass, which was required in certain areas near walkways, entrances or where it could be mistaken for a door.

Tempered glass is generally favoured in situations where injury could occur because of the stress “baked in” to the material itself by design. The manufacturing process of this type of glass sees it cooled quickly from extremely high temperatures, resulting in panes of high strength and – critically – high tension. These properties mean that tempered glass breaks down into tiny crystals with blunt edges when smashed, rather than sharp shards.

“If they had used the right kind of glass, it would have crumpled instead of shattering, and the young girl would not have been injured,” Haté says.

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